Sign Language Week

Sign Language Week
2021-03-16

Photo of TaylorHello everyone, it’s Sign Language Week! It is celebrated in mid-March to commemorate the date in 2003 that British sign language (BSL) was officially recognised in the UK.

A weird confluence of factors has led me to discover this and I’m quite happy to share some resources with the Aberdeen Uni community. I’m not d/Deaf or hard-of-hearing, at least not according to the lacklustre testing I received in US public schools. However, I am someone with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and that brings its own challenges when trying to attend to conversations. How overburdened I can be when there’s too much noise in the environment, called sensory oversensitivity, has meant that I’ve always been drawn to something like sign language (of which there are many but BSL is used within the UK). Unfortunately, unlike spoken language, it’s hard to find a comprehensive and/or easily accessible means to learn sign language. Duolingo doesn’t have a sign language course (though they do have Klingon, a fictional language from the sci-fi series Star Trek, which is both fun and frustrating).

Now, there are some resources out there for learning sign language, but as I alluded to earlier, I’ve always been frustrated by their format or cost-prohibitive-ness. And this is no critique of these resources, as the logistical challenges of getting these courses together certainly warrants the price tag. But it’s difficult to budget in when you’re a student. Luckily, I’ve been pointed to some of these resources that are now offering significant reductions in their cost in order to promote sign language learning. Links to those resources will be below.

One of the reasons that this is important currently is that the d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities are disproportionately affected by the challenges of communicating with masks. Those that are able to read lips are now unable to do so. Combine that with certain facial expressions being covered and people needing to be further away during conversation, and you have a seemingly insurmountable communication barrier between them and spoken language communities.    

In light of the reality that we will all continue to wear masks, I think this is a great opportunity for those of us outside of the d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing community to help bridge that gap. It can be easy to take for granted that, for the most part, most of us just need to annunciate or repeat ourselves more than usual. For the d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities, this all represents another obstacle to communicating with the larger community and going about their day-to-day business in a relatively stress-free way. Even outside of a pandemic, I think that language is one of the most amazing tools we have for understanding and relating with those different from ourselves. While it may seem far-flung to expect to be fluent, even learning a few keys signs could prove beneficial in meeting new people and connecting with them. Finally, to subject you all to a terribly cheesy thing I’ve just come up with, it may allow you to offer a helping hand by communicating with your hands. The opinions here are, of course, from the perspective of a hearing person and may come across patronising. I’ve done my best to avoid this by looking for opinions within the community to elevate, but the possibility still exists that my own conceptions and language bias me unfavourably. As a general rule, we should try to defer to those that are d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing in larger discourse about how to advocate with and for them.

For more resources, you can visit the British Deaf Association, whose tweet tipped me off to Sign Language Week, at https://bda.org.uk/ or their Twitter account at @BDA_Deaf. British-sign.co.uk is where you can find the introductory BSL course that is now “pay what you can”. Other courses that I had found are likely to be off discount by the time this is live so I would just have a Google if you’d like to find others. Britishsignlanguage.com offers a handy sign dictionary and other resources like flashcards and games. YouTube, of course, has a plethora of instructional videos. I found the Deaf Academy and Commanding Hands channels to be useful. “Sign BSL” is a useful sign dictionary app with video examples for mobile needs. For perspectives and research on how the pandemic has affected the deaf and hard-of-hearing community in the UK and worldwide see:

If you’re in need of support or resources at the University as a d/Deaf or hard-of-hearing person, or any other sensory difference or disability, reach out to the Disability Service.

Published by Students, University of Aberdeen

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